Saudi budget carrier Flyadeal drops $5.9bn Boeing Max deal

Saudi Arabian budget carrier Flyadeal reversed a commitment to buy as many as 50 Boeing 737 Max jets, becoming the first airline to officially drop the plane since its grounding following two deadly crashes.

Flyadeal will operate an entirely Airbus fleet, the company said Sunday in a statement, taking as many as 50 A320neo-family planes from Boeing’s European rival.

The order was booked last month at the Paris Air Show by the discounter’s parent, Saudia Arabian Airlines. That announcement had sparked speculation about whether the planes would be allocated to Flyadeal, which said in December it would spend up to $5.9 billion on Boeing Max jets.

“We understand that Flyadeal will not finalize its commitment to the 737 Max at this time given the airline’s schedule requirements,” Boeing said Sunday in an email.

“We wish the Flyadeal team well and hope we can support their fleet and operational needs in the future.”

First delivery

Flyadeal will take delivery starting 2021 of 30 Airbus A320neo aircraft, with an option for a further 20 planes from the A320neo family.

The decision marks a commercial setback for Boeing, which is under pressure to prove the Max is safe and get it flying again after two disasters five months apart killed a combined 346 people. The narrow-body workhorse has been grounded globally since March, and it’s not clear when it will return to the skies.

Europe’s aviation regulator has outlined five major requirements it wants Boeing Co. to address before it will allow the planemaker’s 737 Max to return to service, a person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg last week. One of them related to a previously unknown concern about the jet’s autopilot function.

Boeing won Flyadeal as a customer in December when the airline committed to buying at least 30 737 Max aircraft. The deal, while subject to final terms and conditions, was considered a major victory for Boeing at the time, given Flyadeal has operated an Airbus fleet.

But the airline began to waver following a second fatal crash involving the plane. If the process of finding a fix for the safety problems took too long, the airline was open to other options, chief executive officer Con Korfiatis told Bloomberg in April.

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